Several years ago, as I began to prepare my Sunday School lesson for that week, I was surprised to find that it included ten sections from the Doctrine and Covenants. “We can’t cover that much in the short lesson time,” I thought. “We’ll have to skip over some of the sections.”
Early in the week I decided that section 111 was one that could be skipped. The words follies, treasure, gold and silver, ancient inhabitants didn’t communicate clearly to me. Frankly, I didn’t understand what it was all about, and it didn’t seem particularly significant.
Later in the week, I reread the section and wondered what was meant by the word follies. Maybe they had to do with what had taken the First Presidency to Salem, Massachusetts.
As I read the superscription above the revelation and then studied more about the event, I learned that a man named Burgess had come to Kirtland, claiming that he knew of a large amount of money hidden in a house in Salem.
The Prophet Joseph Smith and others had gone to Salem in hopes of finding that money and using it to relieve the Church’s debts. But the trip had proved to be folly when Burgess couldn’t decide which house contained the treasure.
Even so, the Lord was “not displeased” with the journey. (See D&C 111:1.) The Lord reminded the Prophet that there were other treasures besides gold and silver for which they might search: “I have much treasure in this city for you, for the benefit of Zion, and many people in this city, whom I will gather out in due time for the benefit of Zion, through your instrumentality” (D&C 111:2).
As I studied, I discovered that missionary Erastus Snow turned out to be an important key. According to his journal, Elder Snow was returning home to Nauvoo in 1841 (five years after the revelation that produced Doctrine and Covenants section 111), when he met some other missionaries, including Hyrum Smith. Hyrum urged Elder Snow and his companion, William Law, to abandon their trip home and take up missionary work in Salem.
“They left us a copy of a revelation given about that people in 1836 which said the Lord had much people there whom he would gather into his kingdom in his own due time and they thought the due time of the Lord had come,” Elder Snow wrote. He then went to Salem. (See Erastus Snow Journal, Historical Department, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, pages 3–5.)
The “insignificant” scripture was becoming more and more intriguing to me. The manual indicated that Elder Snow had converted a number of people. But who were they? What contributions had they made?
Suddenly, I remembered something I’d seen in my family’s genealogical records. My great-great-grandfather, Nathaniel Ashby, was born in Salem in 1805. Perhaps he had been there when Elder Snow had preached the gospel. I searched for my history of the Ashby family, contained in a little brown book that I finally found at my brother’s home.
In section 111, verse 9, of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord said that the Prophet should “inquire diligently concerning the more ancient inhabitants” of Salem. The coastal town of Salem was founded in 1626. In 1663 Anthony Ashby was recorded as being in Salem. Anthony was the great-great-great-great-grandfather of Nathaniel Ashby. Since Anthony, six generations of Ashbys had lived in Salem.
The little brown book (Robert Ashby, Ashby Ancestry, 1941), explained that “in 1841, Elder Erastus Snow and others brought to this family the true gospel message which they gladly accepted.” My ancestors were among the converts of Salem!
As I read about Nathaniel and his family, I discovered that Elder Snow and his wife occupied one of Nathaniel’s homes in Salem for two years, rent-free. Perhaps for the missionary, that had been a treasure better than gold. In the fall of 1843, the Ashby family moved to Nauvoo, where they shared a large duplex home with Elder Snow’s family. The Ashbys donated their wealth to help build the temple.
Members of the Ashby family wee in Nauvoo on the day the Prophet Joseph was martyred. They lived only a short distance from the Prophet’s home, and one of Nathaniel’s sons wrote that he was in his father’s garden one morning in June of 1844 when the Prophet rode by on his way to Carthage. “Never shall I forget the look of deep sorrow that covered his noble countenance. That was the last time I saw him alive,” wrote the son.
Members of the Ashby family were in the congregation during the transfiguration of Brigham Young. Nathaniel’s son Benjamin wrote that “the last time I saw the features of Joseph Smith was when the form, voice, and countenance of Brigham Young was transfigured before the congregation so that he appeared like Joseph Smith in every particular.”
The Ashby family was also among those who left their homes in Nauvoo and started west. Within days, Nathaniel died in Iowa. But Susan Ashby pressed on with her eleven children, crossed the plains, and arrived in Salt Lake City. One of the Ashby daughters was my great-grandmother.
I put the little brown book down and returned to the scripture I had earlier thought insignificant. “I have much treasure in this city for you,” the Lord had said, “… many people … whom I will gather out in due time for the benefit of Zion” (D&C 111:2).
The Prophet and other Brethren had gone to Salem in search of gold and silver. But the treasure they found was converts. And through that “treasure,” my own life and the lives of my brothers, sisters, cousins, and countless other descendants of Nathaniel Ashby have been profoundly blessed.